Every university student followed a unique path in determining which college suited them best. At times, the decision can be easy based on the reputation of a specific program or the location of the campus. For some, it’s not easy at all, and their final decision is based on one major factor — which institution made them feel most at home.
“A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.” – Benjamin Franklin
Of course, there’s a university out there which offers your desired program of study at a price you can afford. That’s food for the body. But what about the moments in a place that makes you feel like you belong — as the person you were meant to be? That’s fire for the mind. Anything less is simply a house, not a home.
Something fascinating happens each month when I input our social analytics. I notice that a YouTube video titled “Colorado State University Campus Tour” tends to regularly be among the three most-viewed videos of the period. This data tells us one thing for sure: prospective students are searching for their home.
Vlog Culture: Breaking The Fourth Wall
The term vlog simply refers to a blog that is distributed in video form. A video blog. Basically, someone carries a camera with them, films parts of their day, and uploads that content for the world to see. Unlike television, which delivers content through a series of filters (networks > producers > sponsors > actors > script writers > viewers), vlogging is streamlined from content creator to viewer. The content is unscripted and often highlights life at a very ordinary level.
The fourth wall is a performance convention in which an imagined wall separates the actors from the audience. The actors ignore this wall, which exists — in theory — between the stage and the viewer, and don’t acknowledge the existence of the audience. In a vlog, the dialogue takes place in the second person, intentionally breaking the fourth wall. “Hey you guys, what do you think I should do in my next vlog? Leave a comment below.” The vlogger welcomes the viewers in as if they are a friend, an experience described by Caroline Siede as being a “uniquely intimate form of voyeurism . . . akin to peeking into someone’s medicine cabinet.”
For a prospective student hoping to discover whether a university will feel like “home,” what better way to learn than by peeking inside its medicine cabinet?
Filming your daily life on a regular basis is a lot like writing in your diary and publishing it on the web for everyone to read. It’s a personal form of communication that lets viewers live life vicariously through the creator’s experiences, often resulting in a strong sense of attachment from the viewer toward the producer.
Parasocial interaction is a term coined by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956, referring to a psychological relationship when audiences develop attachments to a performer or media figure. The audience members consider the media personality to be their friend, but the relationship is heavily one-sided. A key to a vlogger’s success is to create a pseudo-friendship with their viewers, revealing intimate details of their own life while referring to their audience in the second person. This develops a sense of familiarity that keeps audience members coming back for more, even though the video creator knows no details of the individual members’ existence. The parasocial relationship is the foundational core that leads to a vlogger’s success.
Why This Should Work: YouTube Is Dominating
Around a year ago, I pitched the idea to our team of finding a better way utilize YouTube in our social media strategy. Knowing how popular the platform is amongst high school-aged students, and being a massive YouTube consumer myself, I suggested that vlogging might be worth exploring. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, Facebook is no longer the most popular platform among teens. Only 51% say they use Facebook, while YouTube leads all online platforms at 85% usage among U.S. teens (followed by Instagram–72%, Snapchat–69%).
A recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education encourages looking on YouTube to discover how the world sees your college. In the article, you learn about a Princeton student named Nicolas Chae, who carries a camera and documents the university experience. He’s produced the top two results for a YouTube search of “Princeton University,” amassing nearly 1 million views between the two videos.
“Informal platforms like YouTube or Reddit help students demystify the application and admissions process,” said Kevin Martin, a former admissions counselor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Overly produced videos strip away the authentic feel that students are hoping to find. The videos that college students are uploading showcase campus life unfiltered. A 2019 priority is to enlist the help of students who are willing to vlog about life at Colorado State, committing to one fresh vlog per week. The strategy is different from a one-day takeover in that vloggers will document their journey–whatever that might be–over an entire semester. Consistent uploads from familiar faces should lead to the development of a parasocial relationship, which then builds trust and could ultimately have a very profound impact on the admissions process for prospective Colorado State students.
We recently put out a casting call on Instagram Stories in hopes of discovering a student who could help us with our next social media priority: CSU Vlogs.